I was an urban rider from age 23-26 in Minneapolis, MN where I was born and raised. I was working in my field of passion for a social service non-profit after having graduated with a Business Communications degree. My job was to empower low income women with independent living skills. Despite the love of my job, I increasingly grew dissatisfied with the state of my country, and the world. This dissatisfaction grew so large another radical friend and I decided to quit our jobs, take a train to Portland and bike south. That was the extent of our plan. We saved and bought gear over the next two months for the tour. Depending on what part of the world you live in this may or may not seem radical, but where we’re from, people don’t do stuff like this. My friend and I had never biked over 10 miles, and neither of us were especially camping savvy, however we were determined. A bike shop proprietor in Minneapolis who found it just as important to mentor community members, as to sell bikes let us volunteer in exchange for sweet custom bikes and a few important lessons in bike mechanics.
Two months after arriving in Portland by train, we landed in San Francisco. We had seen many things, met many people and most importantly learned much about ourselves. I’d never felt so free. The loose plan was to bike to Mexico, however my friend and I decided after two months of being inextricably linked on our bikes it was time to part ways. She hitchhiked the rest of the way down the coast, and I was chillin’ in San Francisco with nowhere concrete to sleep, the loss of having just broken up with a partner, but also the feeling I could accomplish anything. I called a friend I had made chatting with at San Francisco’s prominent bicycle co-op when I had been fixing my bike. I informed him I was staying in San Francisco to try and establish myself by getting a job, apartment, etc. He invited me to start volunteering at the co-op as a Greeter.
I quickly became ingrained in the cycling community of San Francisco through the co-op, as most of my friends arose from this network. After 3 months of volunteering, I was eligible to become a staff member. The remarkable sheen the bike tour waxed over my life view had not worn off, and I was still excited about everything including learning more about bicycle mechanics. Most would say I am a very independent woman, and with this comes a strong desire to empower myself with skills. I followed the official procedure and posted to the listserv I had fulfilled the requirements needed to apply for staff, and that I would like the vetting process to start. This was an opportunity for staff members to vouch for me which would lead to staff status, but also for any objections. I received enthusiastic thumbs up from a handful of people, but one of the 4 female staff members raised opposition to my staff status saying it promoted the wrong message having a greeter (versus a mechanic) who was female. People spoke up on my behalf, and one of the counter arguments was I had a desire to learn mechanics, which was true.
1.5 years later and I still had a very small working knowledge of bicycle mechanics. I still feel awful not fulfilling the promise to the co-op, but ultimately to myself. I’d started work at a bike shop, but ultimately quit because at the time I felt like I didn’t have enough base knowledge of mechanics. I’d learned enough to get by in the bike world, and to be a great greeter at the co-op, but this desire to be skillful in an area that would afford me independence with my cycling lifestyle was not fulfilled. You’re probably wondering WHY I wouldn’t just learn the mechanic skills.
I experienced performance anxiety so high it was debilitating. I couldn’t concentrate on what someone was explaining to me, and when I did try to perform some repair my mind and body was so clouded by anxiety I just couldn’t do it right. The anxiety was exacerbated by the fear this would happen again when I tried the next time. Most would call me above average intelligent, athletic and sociable. The reason for this was I hid my anxiety well by avoiding situations, ie. learning mechanics, where I knew the fear would creep into my performance.
This anxiety and fear has plagued me since I was a teen, it still does. Every day I push myself trying to overcome it – I’ve tried everything from therapy, drugs, forcing myself into uncomfortable situations, and striving for holistic health. It affected me less after the West coast bike tour because I felt fulfilled, and truly free and happy. Other than that experience though, the deviation in levels of anxiety has been negligible. When I agreed to do this guest post, I knew this anxiety arose from my relationship with my father, but I didn’t know why. I wanted to challenge myself to understand why, and use this as a cathartic means to work through these fears that prevent me from being as empowered, happy, and skillful as I could be. It’s exhausting to have a constant defense mechanism to hide a part of yourself, but unfortunately the fear of humiliation, a symptom of anxiety, instills in me a stronger desire to keep hiding rather than let the fortress come down.
Having dug deep, I’m starting to make the connection between the relationship with my father and this anxiety. I love my dad very much, and that is why the hurt he’s caused me runs so deep. My father (and mother) afforded me a very comfortable middle class lifestyle, a partially paid college education, and a home free of physical and emotional violence. However, despite having lived with him for more than 18 years I have no clue who my father is. He is very closed off emotionally. We have a pattern that has been played out hundreds of times throughout my lifetime, up until the very present. I want something from my father – be it a resource or support for my decisions in life, however if he doesn’t agree with it he won’t even give me an inch. His coldness in delivering this message causes me to get emotional. I then see my emotions push him even further away. It hurts even more because my emotions are a signal to him that it’s ok to be vulnerable and to open up, but he doesn’t so I end up being the only hurt one. The coldness and disapproving nature increases, and at this point I give all my power away because all I want from him is love and support and I am completely vulnerable, but he won’t give it to me. We eventually come to some sort of conclusion, as we are a family that desires to appear reasonable. I think to myself I will never allow myself to be vulnerable again, because it always ends in powerlessness and hurt. Unfortunately, I can’t follow through with this because I desire approval from this person I am connected to in one of the most intimate ways – we are a direct product of the fabric of our parents. We are linked in such a powerful way and so this drama repeats. I realize my anxiety rears up when I feel vulnerable. It’s my bodies way of trying to protect me after such a damaging footprint has been established after 28 years of being hurt when I make myself vulnerable. To learn something new, you have to open yourself up immensely – take a risk at failing or looking stupid. The anxiety prevents me from taking this risk, but in some cases especially learning new skills the risk is worth it however my body hasn’t learned this yet.
I know many of my friends in the bike community in San Francisco couldn’t make sense of why this outspoken, independent strong woman wouldn’t learn mechanics. It didn’t connect in their mind, nor mine. Writing this article was a big step for me in testing the waters of vulnerability. I hope I will be able to report back to you in due time I’ve been able to work through some of this and do myself justice by allowing myself to be empowered with skills that complement the lifestyle I love in cycling.
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